Met Police disbanding specialist Sapphire rape units

Met Police 'risking a new Worboys' after secretly disbanding its sex crime unit
• The Met set up the Sapphire unit after a series of failures in high-profile cases
• But sex crime detectives are being reassigned to small teams in the 32 boroughs
• Campaigners fear a serial rapist like John Worboys could slip through the net
• Worboys attacked up to 100 women while working as a cabbie in London

PUBLISHED: 00:12, 28 January 2018 | UPDATED: 00:14, 28 January 2018

Britain's biggest police force is secretly disbanding its central rape investigations unit, raising fears that serial rapists such as John Worboys will escape justice.

Scotland Yard set up the Sapphire unit nearly a decade ago after a series of failures in high-profile cases including Worboys, who attacked up to 100 women while working as a London cabbie.

But The Mail on Sunday can reveal that sex crime detectives covering the whole of London are being reassigned to small teams in the 32 boroughs.

The Metropolitan Police claims that the move, never publicly announced, will improve its handling of rape cases because officers can work more closely with domestic abuse teams.

But insiders and campaigners for victims fear another Worboys could slip through the net if those local units fail to spot a serial rapist is attacking women across the capital.

Last night, Harry Fletcher of the Victims Rights Campaign said: ‘The decision to run the Sapphire unit down in the light of the decision to release Worboys from jail is astonishing, given its history. The confidence of victims of rape and sexual assault has been seriously eroded by recent events. A mix of Worboys and rape trial collapses has made matters even worse. The decision to deploy specialist officers back locally will reduce morale among victims even further.’

The Parole Board provoked anger earlier this month after announcing Worboys would be released from jail. This is now on hold ahead of a court challenge by victims. The Met is also investigating a fresh claim of sexual assault dating back to 1997.

Worboys attacked women in the back of his cab by giving them champagne laced with sedatives after falsely claiming he had won the lottery. He was finally jailed in April 2009 but a report by the independent police watchdog criticised ‘individual and system’ failures by the Met, including officers not believing complainants and missed chances to secure evidence.

A separate review by Dame Elish Angiolini into the Met’s handling of rape cases said the Worboys scandal was one of the main reasons behind the decision to centralise 32 borough sexual offences units into one Sapphire command in September 2009. Sapphire is now part of a Child Abuse and Sexual Offences (CASO) command at the Met.

A Met spokesman told this newspaper: ‘Around 85 per cent of rape allegations involve parties already known to one another, with individuals who experience domestic abuse often at higher risk of rape or sexual offences.

‘Bringing sexual offences officers into local policing teams means rape investigators will work closely alongside colleagues specialising in domestic abuse.

‘There will be no change to the working remits of sexual offences officers … and there is no change to staffing levels. These cases will continue to be overseen centrally and actively monitored via intelligence hubs to establish if there are any linked series of offences.’

A police insider said that officers in CASO were told about the move by bosses only last week and that they received it in ‘stunned, shocked silence’.

The source said officers fear the decision ‘could result in another Warboys’. If a serial rapist moved about, he could be missed because each attack would be looked at by individuals in different boroughs and not be linked as quickly as by the central unit.